Frigid February fishing in Alaska features crabbing from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea, followed in March by halibut, black cod and herring.
Crabbers throughout Southeast will drop pots for Tanners on February 11 and they’re expecting one of the best seasons ever. Fishery managers said they are seeing “historically high levels” of Tanner crab with good recruitment coming up from behind.
The catch limit won’t be set until the fishery is underway but last year’s take was 1.27 million pounds (504,369 crabs), which weigh 2.5 pounds on average. Crabbers know they will fetch historically high prices based on the recent pay-out for westward region Tanners.
Prices to fishermen at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula reached a jaw dropping $8.50/lb for the week-long fishery that ended in late January and produced 1.8 million pounds of good looking crab.
Back at Southeast, crabbers also can concurrently pull up golden king crabs starting on February 11. The harvest limit is 75,300 pounds, up from 61,000 pound last year. The crabs weigh 5-8 pounds on average and last year paid out at $11.55/lb at the Southeast docks.
A Tanner crab fishery kicks off at Prince William Sound starting March 1 with a 61,800 pound catch limit. The fishery could run through March 31 unless the quota is taken earlier.
Out in the Bering Sea, crabbers have taken 18% of their one million pound Tanner crab quota and 33% of their 5.6 million pound snow crab quota. For snow crab, that equals about 4.3 million animals.
The 2022 snow crab catch is down 88% from last year’s 45 million pound quota and has been officially classified as “overfished” by federal managers.
However, a NOAA document to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in October said the snow crab stock is “not subject to overfishing,” because “the fishery removals aren’t above the level considered to be sustainable — rather, it’s because the stock dropped for other reasons that scientists and managers aren’t entirely sure of yet.”
Further north, a through the ice February red king crab fishery at Norton Sound was canceled when local buyers opted not to purchase any to protect the declining stock in that region.
In other Alaska fisheries, halibut catches for this year were increased for all regions except Southeast. Here’s the breakdown in millions of pounds compared to 2021, in parentheses: Southeast/Area 2C: 3.51m (3.53m); Central Gulf/3A: 9.55m (8.95m); Western Gulf /3B: 3.35m (2.56m); Aleutians/4A: 1.76m (1.66m); Aleutians/4B: 1.28m (1.23m); Bering Sea/4CDE: 2.06m (1.67m).
In all, the Alaska commercial halibut harvest for 2022 is 21.51 million pounds, up from 19.6 million pounds last year. The average halibut price paid to Alaska fishermen in 2021 was $6.40/lb with a fishery value topping $109 million.
The abundance of Alaska sablefish (black cod), one of the priciest fish, continues to soar in all regions. Combined Gulf and Bering Sea catches for 2022 total nearly 76 million pounds, a 32% increase.
The sablefish and halibut fisheries both run from March 6 to December 7.
Boats also are targeting Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, where combined catches could top three billion pounds, as well as cod, rockfish and flounders.
Some good news for Southeast king salmon trollers – their treaty harvest allocation for 2022 is 193,200 Chinook salmon, a 44,700 fish increase from 2021.
Finally, the 2022 forecast for the Copper River sockeye salmon commercial harvest is just 716,000 fish. The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game predicts the total sockeye run will come in at 1,432,000 fish, 34% below the 10-year average.